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Understanding modular construction

Modular construction is becoming the construction method of choice for many in different industries. Not only does it reduce overall costs, but it offers speedier build times with the same or higher level of quality than traditional construction methods.

It is a method that is most commonly used to construct hotels, hospitals, and schools, as these sectors are where the mass production of modules offer the most benefits.

If you speak to experts in construction, modular is considered an improvement on traditional methods of building. Modular offers benefits for the environment and provides a continued opportunity to improve knowledge and skills that can be applied in real-time. The superiority of modular construction design may surprise many, but this surprise is based on the ill-informed assumption that more complex builds have to be constructed using traditional methods.

What is modular construction?

Modular construction is the creation of sectional buildings that are known as modules. What sets it apart from other construction methods is that components of modular builds are constructed off-site and can be done simultaneously alongside any groundwork. The modules are built in a factory as prefabricated units, making them cost-effective as supplies and the personnel required are easy to manage. Because preparation of the building site doesn’t delay the fabrication of each module, the start to finish build time is reduced by around 50%.

When trying to understand how modular building works, think of Lego pieces. Specialists design the modules to sit alongside one another perfectly, and they can be stacked too. Because of this flexibility, clients can request separate or larger rooms that are connected. The modules are 80% complete before they ever reach the building site, as the first fix is completed at the factory. Only the second fix, mechanical and electrical, is completed once the modules are delivered on site.

The history of modular

First used in the 19th century and based on the design of Henry Manning, modules were first used to build homes in Australia, shipped from the UK. However, it is only recently that this approach has been seen as the most viable form of construction for larger projects.

Hospitals and schools enjoy most of the benefit of this mass construction, primarily thanks to the lack of disruption on site. Rather than a build over a year, the building can be completed in a matter of months.

How does modular construction work?

The design and manufacturing team are housed together in a factory setting, and the modules’ construction is a streamlined process. All the required trades for the build are in one place, and once one step is complete, the module moves along to the next stage and the following necessary trade. As professionals are hired permanently, the labour costs are massively reduced. Reducing the financial cost to the client also helps reduce the environmental cost of construction.

Modular construction begins the same way as traditional methods, with the planning, designing, engineering and preparation of the site. The difference starts here, as the construction of the modules can happen simultaneously with the groundworks on site. There is still a need to lay foundations, but time is drastically cut thanks to the factory build of the main modules. By the time the groundworks are finished, the modules will already be completed and ready for delivery.

While traditional construction would be going through the framing process, roofing, siding, and insulation, followed by the fitting of doors, windows and plumbing, the module is delivered with the first fit complete. Once onsite, the second M&E fit is completed and the final flooring laid.

How can this method help healthcare?

The biggest win for the NHS is cost-saving. The budget and deadline can be fixed, and there is a greater chance that the construction team will meet both.

The speed of construction can also quickly resolve bed shortage problems while reducing the disruption onsite during the build. The noise is reduced, and the health and safety risks of heavy construction traffic is also lessened.

While there is a common prejudice that modular builds are uniform and dull, nothing could be further from the truth. Technology has evolved, as has design, and each module unit can be made bespoke to the client’s brief.

Many hospitals today are extended using modular construction. Wards, operating theatres, labs, and more are adding to the extending footprint of a hospital. The quality of the buildings provided needs to be, and are, of high quality, to serve the needs of patients and staff.

Why should I choose module construction over traditional methods?

The onsite, linear construction from the ground up takes time. Each stage has to be completed before the next one begins. Until the groundwork is finished, you cannot construct the main building. On the other hand, prefabricated construction methods occur concurrently with the foundation laying, saving valuable time and money.

The process is both efficient, cost-effective and safer. The factory setting is a more accessible site to control, with standard health and safety procedures in place. Staff work within this environment all the time as colleagues, and there is no mixing of subcontractors, etc. As the weather does not impact it, modular construction is more often than not delivered to deadline. The same cannot be true for traditional methods, where delays are built into the schedule and expectations of clients managed

What are the environmental credentials of modular construction?

Modular construction is eco-friendly. For instance, the supply chain is much easier to manage in the factory setting. Therefore, there is a massive reduction in waste, and there can be a greater emphasis on developing practices with eco-friendly materials. There are fewer trucks on the road and less energy consumed in the construction of the modules. As there is also less time on site, there is a reduction in noise pollution for the local community.

The modules can also be reused and recycled. As the module is constructed from components, easy deconstruction is possible. Unlike a traditional building that would need to be demolished and sent to a landfill, the modular structure can be disassembled. It is even possible to move the building if it needs to be relocated.